The following account was written by Richard Syson
It was told to him by his father, unfortunately I do not know which pit or when.
One of the most terrifying times that John ever experienced in his life was while he was night shift boss in the big coal mine in England.
A typical scene around the turn of the century. Three Clay Cross miners are seen here repairing a subsidiary road. It must have been a post, like one of these, that saved Johns life.
By 9 p.m. all workmen had descended to the bottom of the shaft and had assembled in the office to receive orders. When they had dispersed to different parts of the mine, I took up my safety lamp and pick and went to where there was a big fall of rock. Which was exceedingly dangerous, for only the night before one of the men had been killed by a roof fall. When I arrived on the scene the men were setting up steel props and bars. For the roof was cracking and grumbling and bits of roof was falling. Everything had to be done quickly or else the roof would cave in so it was high tension work, and nerve splitting. First one would shout 'Hey look out there" and down would come a big lump or a wagon load of small stuff, enough to have buried those underneath.
I said to one of the men "Well, what do you think of it.? It looks like an all nights job, John. " We had better hurry up and get some props and bars set, it looks as if all the road is going to be blocked." Just then some of the steel bars began to twist and bend, we all made a quick move and got out as tons of rock fell.
The work was not only dangerous but very discouraging, the management wanted the road cleared and it could only be done at night. At midnight, we had our lunch but little could we see that we had done for our labour.
"Well fellows, we've sure got to get moving or else we'll all get buried" we shouted and yelled to one another. All the while we were shovelling the rock into wagons and setting up props and bars as we proceeded. It was awfully slow work and the road wasn't cleared and time was drawing near when we should of quit.
At 5:30 a.m., I said," Well fellows gather up your tools and put them away safely and then we'll go."
- I then did a foolish thing -
Instead of going with the men, I thought I would go and have a look at the other side of the fall. The fall had partly filled the road up but had left a big clearing space on top, so I climbed over the heap to the other side. Instead of being satisfied with what I had seen, I thought I would examine the road further on. In the mean time, all the men had gone and when they reached the office and delivered their safety lamps they did not mention to the man in charge that I was behind, expecting that I would show up any minute.
After satisfying myself that the road was clear this side of the fall, I thought I would return and get as quickly as possible to the pit bottom. As I did so my light flickered out, and there I was one mile or more from the office. Having no matches, because of gas in the mine, I was in a fix and I knew it.
I was glad when I could feel the rails that wagons ran on, for there were little bits dropping from the roof all the time, which was the forerunners of big falls. I was feeling very uncomfortable, not knowing whether or not there was rock ready to fall on me. I followed the rails with my feet. The roof began to crack and pieces fell, so I edged up to the side and felt for a prop. I then stood by it and waited. Seconds were like minutes and minutes like hours and I dared not shift my position. All the time I was wondering when someone would be coming to see where I was, wishing all the time they would hurry up!!!
The darkness and silence were really horrible, more than my nerves could stand, so I began to shout. I felt sure I should be killed if I didn't get away, for more of the roof began falling in bigger lumps, then in heaps to the right and left of me. I could hear it thundering down and horrors if it got nearer to me.
I could feel the post that I was standing by shiver and I thought it was falling over, but it was stopped by another post. One end of the bar I was standing under, the end farthest from me, caught on the floor and so remained at a slant. The rock fell but the bar and the post shielded me. I received some sharp cuts and bruises.
Will they ever come?? I had no idea of the time. I lapsed into unconsciousness. It was 5 :30 a.m. when the men left and it was 12 noon before it was found that I was missing. One of the day deputies happened to go into the lamp cleaners office and saw an empty hook, inquired where the lamp was and then found that the lamp had not been returned.
They got to working to find me. They heard me moaning. It took the men 6 hours to dig me out. !! Thank God I was given another chance